Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Construction Equipment

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By Evelyn Long

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the construction industry is one of the worst offenders. In 2019, construction was responsible for 38% of energy-related CO2 emissions. And with projects expected to grow much faster in 2021 and beyond as the country recuperates from the COVID-19 pandemic, that number will continue to grow unless construction company owners take drastic measures.

One of the easiest ways to reduce a company’s carbon footprint is in its equipment fleet. How can these companies reduce the carbon footprint of their construction equipment?

1. Training

Training is essential to ensure equipment operators are able to carry out their job safely and efficiently. But putting an untrained operator behind the wheel can also increase the equipment’s carbon footprint.

A trained and experienced operator knows how to run a piece of equipment to the edge of its limits without pushing it too far. They also understand how best to carry out a task, so they spend less time idling and wasting time on the job site.

An untrained operator, on the other hand, can burn far more fuel than someone who is trained. In addition to increasing vehicle costs, it also increases the amount of CO2 emissions generated by each piece of equipment. Something as simple as comprehensive training can go a long way toward decreasing the carbon footprint of even the largest piece of equipment.

2. Management

Fleet management software is a relatively new addition to the construction industry, but it’s one that comes with a variety of benefits — including giving fleet managers and business owners the tools they need to reduce their fleet’s carbon footprint. Management software, usually paired with both a maintenance database and installed sensors, can help operators understand the ins and outs of their machines.

Fleet management software and the accompanying hardware necessary to make the most of the system can represent a substantial investment. But if the main concern is reducing a fleet’s collective carbon footprint, the program will easily end up paying for itself over time.

The goal of a fleet management system is to monitor the equipment in real-time and feed that information back to a central database. The more information this software has, the easier it will be to make small changes that cascade into big results.

3. Maintenance

Regular maintenance is necessary to keep a construction fleet running, but it can also help reduce the greenhouse gasses each piece emits while in operation. A piece of unmaintained heavy machinery isn’t going to burn fuel as efficiently as it could, leading to dirty exhaust and more emissions.

It’s no different than letting a car go without maintenance for long periods. Eventually, things will stop functioning properly and the car that started out getting 25 miles to the gallon will burn through fuel faster and end up costing more in the long run. Plus, the value to owners is similarly affected — the value of that used machinery depends on maintenance history, so reducing the total lifetime cost of ownership will depend on good care.

According to the EPA, all heavy equipment must meet certain emissions standards to operate in the United States without facing fines. Routine maintenance on all heavy equipment in a construction fleet can ensure they are releasing as few emissions as possible and that they are within the emissions standards outlined by the EPA.

4. Electric Alternatives

Diesel isn’t the only option for construction equipment fuel anymore. As sustainability and emissions are at the forefront of everyone’s mind, companies are looking for alternative ways to get the job done without burning fossil fuels.

Right now, two viable alternatives are emerging: electric motors plus batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Both options have the potential to take the construction industry by storm. Electric equipment, in addition to reducing emissions, also helps to address the problem of noise pollution on construction sites — some models are five times quieter than diesel equipment, creating a safer environment for indoor work.

Electric construction equipment is currently most popular for indoor machinery like forklifts and mini excavators. Major manufacturers like Caterpillar and Volvo are constantly improving electric models as technology improves and researchers find ways to increase power and efficiency.

Fuel cell-powered fleets, which run on hydrogen and emit water and oxygen as their only exhaust, are also becoming popular. Automaker Hyundai is one of many companies working on fuel cell-powered construction equipment, with plans to roll out hydrogen-powered excavators and forklifts by 2023.

Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Construction Equipment

The construction industry may be one of the biggest offenders when it comes to generating greenhouse gasses, but that also means they have the most room to improve. Taking steps as simple as improving operator training and requiring regular maintenance can go a long way toward reducing the industry’s carbon footprint.

About the Author

Evelyn Long is a writer and editor focused on construction and sustainability. Her work can be found on Renovated, a web resource for better building and design.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.